The Long Story of Trump’s Disregard (and Mistakes) for NATO

Even before he was inaugurated as president in January 2017, Donald Trump had already shaken up NATO more than any of his predecessors in the White House, according to Diario De Noticiasquoted by Rador Radio Romania.

Donald Trump in the election campaignPhoto: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press / Profimedia Images

As a candidate, he said he considered it an “outdated” organization, questioning the weight of the United States’ contribution compared to European countries and questioning Washington’s willingness to abide by the sacred Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – to defend any ally under attack – saying it would depend on the ally in question and whether it had “met its financial obligations”, alluding to the 2% of GDP spent on the defense of Alliance countries.

This weekend, again as a candidate, the Republican once again showed his lack of appreciation for the organization, saying that if he is re-elected president of the United States, he will encourage Russia to do what it wants with countries that have debts to NATO.

At a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Donald Trump retold a story about an unnamed NATO leader asking him about the threat not to defend countries that failed to the funding target of the Atlantic Alliance. “One of the presidents of a great country stood up and said:

‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, are you going to protect us?'” the Republican reported before revealing the answer: “No, I’m not going to protect you. In fact, I will encourage them to do whatever they want. You have to pay your debts. You didn’t pay, you’re a criminal,” Trump added when mentioning the episode.

Donald Trump’s favorite weapon of attack against NATO and the United States’ participation in the organization is related to each country’s contribution to its budget, pointing the finger at European countries. But the truth is that the former US president has the wrong view of how NATO funding works.

Since 2006, NATO countries have set a benchmark of at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense spending by 2024, and member states have already increased their budgets since 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, a territory that it is part of Ukraine. And, according to Politico, 11 of the 31 countries met the 2% target last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Poland became NATO’s top spender, with 4.2% of its GDP going to defense .

According to Trump’s version, there is a centralized NATO budget to which countries contribute, and its member states, with the exception of the United States, do not meet the 2% target, forgetting that this is a guideline, not a mandatory rule, and refers to the budget of each country.

The only time Article 5 was activated

This is not the first time that Trump has threatened that the United States will not defend its NATO allies in the event of a Russian attack. Speaking at an event in 2022, he recalled a meeting where he told his foreign counterparts that he might not comply with Article 5 if many member states did not increase their contributions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In January, Politico also reported that in 2020, Trump had already told the president of the European Commission that the United States would not come to Europe’s defense if it were attacked.

“The only time the Article 5 defense clause was triggered was in response to 9/11. Our allies then came to help us, it would be shameful and false not to do the same,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, for “The Washington Post”.

On top of all that, according to a January 2019 story in The New York Times, Trump has also come to consider the United States’ withdrawal from NATO, discussing the possibility with his closest advisers. “I care little for NATO,” he allegedly said, according to former national security adviser John Bolton’s account in his book “The Room Where It Happened.”

Trump’s campaign website currently has the following message: “We must complete the process we began during my administration to reassess NATO’s purpose and mission.”

An increased risk

The White House reacted strongly to Trump’s proposal. “Encouraging the invasion of our closest allies by criminal regimes is disturbing and irresponsible,” said Biden administration spokesman Andrew Bates.

“Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines the security of all, including the United States, and exposes American and European soldiers to increased danger,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, according to Diario De Noticiasquoted by Rador Radio Romania.

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Barack
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